This photo, taken by the famous Sally Mann, has caused some controversies in the past. A photo of a girl smoking a cigarette, with feisty attitude and strong emotion on her face. Sally Mann has been my favourite photographer, and few weeks ago, i stumbled upon this photo when i was browsing my archive. This girl, once again, captivated me. I wondered what she looks like now as an adult. How’s her mothers works affected her and shaped her personality. Jessie Mann is an artist now and in 2007, she and Len Prince did a collaboration together.
Len Prince and Jessie Mann first met in 2001. He was a photographer looking for a muse. She, the daughter and frequent subject for her mother, Sally Mann, felt literally compelled to explore the creative possibilities of self-fictionalization, or, in her words, of “making art by being in art”. And so the pair embarked on a partnership which is itself about the act of collaboration, while at the same time being about creating memorable images that combine theatrics, and performance, and ideas.
The resulting body of work comes from a world where form, concept, and technical virtuosity mix. It is the result of a now five year collaboration between a highly regarded photographer and a subject who both wittingly and unwittingly has become one of the most compelling and controversial subjects in the history of photography.
Every image is layered with meaning. Two examples: The re-creation of the famous image of Joseph Beuys is not just imitation. It is a picture about passion (Beuy’s passion as well as Prince’s and Mann’s for their art); place (a doorway on Mann’s Virginia property); light (and the ability of Prince’s 8x10 camera to capture so much of the nuance of glow and shadow); and gender.
The photograph of Jessie Mann bathing in the stream references the mythological goddess, Diana. And so the photographer becomes Actaeon - the hunter who unwittingly comes across the naked goddess and is violently punished for his transgression. But the image is also about the transformative aspects of seeing and being seen. It is about power. And not incidentally about rushing water captured on a long exposure.
The inspirations in this body of work may vary from mythological to art historical to pop-cultural. The references may vary from public to personal. Yet what holds everything together is a sense of commitment and engagement with photography and the profound belief that art matters.
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